By Ronan McAleenan
With a combined record of 23-40 and a team with a losing record making the playoffs last year it is definitely an off season that change was to be expected for all the NFC East sides.
If you haven’t been paying attention to the teams in the division you’d be forgiven for assuming that this is going to be another dumpster fire of a year and all 4 teams will be battling for first overall pick next year, but that isn’t the case at all. Each team has strengthened their roster with players returning from injury, big names free agency signings and highly touted draft picks littered throughout. The division could easily go to any of the four teams if they hit form at the right time in the season and with a 17th game to be played this year that could be the key in a division in which 1 game separated first and third in 2020.
First up, is America’s team – the Dallas Cowboys. After being plastered all over our screens this summer in Hard Knocks and receiving the famed ‘bump’ from the show it is easy to see where the hype in this roster comes from.
Dak sign a $160m/4 year deal in the off season, despite a horrific injury last year, bringing an end to the speculation that he would become a free agent. Sean Lee, the stalwart of the defense, retired only to be replaced by Micah Parsons in the draft (I still can’t get used to defensive players wearing single digits)
If the Boys manage to get their running game restarted with the combination of Ezekiel Elliot and Tony Pollard it will free up the plethora of weapons they have in the receiving core and could cause a lot of defenses problems. The main concern is their defensive unit, mainly the defensive backs. If they manage to straighten out these issues then the Cowboys may have a team that is worthy of challenging for the division.
Player to Watch – Ezekiel Elliott (RB) – The running back is looking to have a bounce back year in 2021 after a disappointing 2020 campaign. The key is Dallas’ offense runs through Zeke and the offensive line getting back to it’s best.
Breakout Player – Blake Jarwin (TE) – Jarwin enters his 5th year in the NFL and after injury curtailed his 2020 season he is expected to continue progressing as projected. The TE managed 31 receptions for 365 yards as a back up to TV superstar Jason Witten, now with no one in his way it is expected that Jarwin is the main TE outlet for Dak and this fast moving offense.
Predicted Record – 8-9
New York Giants
The G Men spent free agency shoring up key positions on either side of the football, namely resigning Leonard Williams to a huge deal, paying Adoree’ Jackson handsomely, and finally getting Daniel Jones a big name target in Kenny Golladay.
This year is make or break for Daniel Jones, coming into year 3 of his professional career he now has more weapons than ever around him and even though Saquon Barkley is returning from a torn ACL last year there is enough talent with the likes of Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, Evan Engram and rookie Kadarius Toney.
Additionally, the Giants spent heavily in defense signing Leonard Williams to a 3 year/$63million deal and giving Adoree’ Jackson £39million over 3 years to tempt him away from Tennessee and spending three quarters of their draft on defensive picks. It is clear that New York have focused on giving Daniel Jones the best chance to succeed. Will this be the former Duke star’s last season under centre for New York or will he prove himself an NFL calibre quarter back with the ability to bring the Giants back to the promised land?
Player to Watch – Leonard Williams (DE) – Leonard Williams finally got paid this off season. The former 6th overall pick has been franchise tagged twice but John Mara finally opened the purse. Leonard came off his first season with double digit sacks and recorded his most tackles since his sophomore year, it should be the year that Williams makes his way towards the top of sack leaders board. Keep an eye out for Leonard Williams tearing his way through offensive lines and getting to the signal caller.
Breakout Player – Xavier McKinney (S) – The former First Team All-SEC star spent the majority of 2020 on the injured reserve with a fractured foot but coming into 2021 at full health expect to see the safety making plays all over the field.
Predicted Record – 8-9
2021 is a transition year in Philadelphia, first time head coach Nick Sirianni starts with a clean slate having traded Carson Wentz to Indianapolis and handing the reigns to Jalen Hurts. The first thing the new Eagles front office did in the draft was to pair Hurts with his former college teammate, and Heisman winning wide receiver, DeVonta Smith. Should they have replaced Jalen Mills who made his way to New England is free agency or will taking the ‘Bama skill player prove to be the correct choice?
Like their division rivals, New York Giants, the Eagles spent the majority of their draft chasing defensive players to shore up their leaky defense from 2020. Landon Dickerson falling to them in the second is arguably the steal of the draft and could easily be the pick that determines Hurts position as franchise quarterback.
As with Jones in New York, Jalen Hurts is coming into an extremely important year of his career. But unlike Jones this will be Hurts first year as a starter from Week 1. Given the famously fickle nature of Philadelphians Hurts might not be granted the grace that other fan bases give their budding quarterbacks and an unsuccessful year may result in calls for one of Philly’s first round picks (assuming that the Wentz trade turns into a first) to be used on one of the quarterbacks of 2022.
Player to Watch – Miles Sanders (RB) – With Hurts being passed the baton as starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles it is important for him to have an effective running game alongside him. Miles Sanders is also coming into year 3 of his professional career and is likely to finally break that 1,000 yard marker that running backs all aim to hit.
Breakout Player – Landon Dickerson (C) – There is a reason Alabama running backs keep winning the Heisman under Nick Saban and that’s his offensive linemen. For years now the Crimson Tide have been churning out top linemen and Dickerson is no different. Despite his injury history Dickerson has been an stalwart at the centre position and even after tearing his ACL in the SEC Championship game him played the final snap of the National Championship game a mere 3 weeks after. Dickerson signed a 4 year contract with the Eagles and if the pick pans out as expected he could be a massive steal in the 2nd Round.
Predicted Record – 5-12
Washington Football Team
Ron Rivera’s 2020 WFT team became the first team to enter into the post-season since Ron Rivera’s 2014 Carolina Panthers team, but this time they didn’t manage to complete the upside and register a playoff win. In preparation for the 2021 season Washington strengthen in what was arguably their weakest position – quarterback. The one piece of the puzzle that was missing from this roster, which boasts one of the best defenses in football, was a little bit of magic. And they got it by way of Harvard’s own, Ryan Fitzpatrick. The bearded journeyman is yet to register a playoff win in his 16 years in the league, but this is easily one of his best, and possibly last, chances to do so.
With Scary Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Logan Thomas and Antonio Gibson making up the other key skill positions this WFT roster is primed to make it into the post-season. The defense needs to introduction either, the off season was spent adding more depth to the defense, this unit can only get better.
Player to Watch – Daron Payne (DT) – With all the talk of Washington’s defensive ends in Chase Young, Montez Sweat and the newly drafted Shaka Toney, the player to watch in the WFT defense is Daron Payne. The DT has recorded 10 career sacks including 2 on Tom Brady in the playoffs and with the weapons that WFT have on the edge this year could see Payne’s production increase.
Breakout Player – Logan Thomas (TE) – It’s not often you talk about a 6th year player finally breaking out but Logan Thomas is different. The tight ends journey is a little different than others. Coming into the league as a quarterback for Arizona in 2014 he transitioned to tight end in 2016 and has slowly developed into a trusted receiving option. In his 2nd year with Washington his is expected that Thomas will be part of an ever evolving passing game and his utilisation will increase significantly.
Record – 11-6